Counter-Strike

All popular multiplayer games fight never-ending battles against cheaters. But as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive rose in 2014 to become the most-played FPS in the world, a few things made it particularly susceptible to hacking. 

As the 10th game released on Source (and the third mainline CS), there were already piles of knowledge on how to tamper with Valve's engine. Hacks built for ancient stuff like Half-Life 2: Deathmatch could, with a few minutes' tweaking, perhaps function in CS:GO (although Valve says they'd be trivial to detect). Design-wise, the traits that make CS:GO a skillful game of angles and accuracy also make cheats more effective. Weapons are highly lethal, so putting those guns in the hands of aimbots makes them even more devastating. And CS:GO's focus on information and stealth means that knowing the location of your opponent is invaluable—fertile ground for wallhacks.

CS:GO's fight against hackers is "important, valuable work" according to Valve, but if you've played the FPS, you may have noticed a couple years ago that things were beginning to get dramatically better. Not only did Reddit complaints and frustrated replay clips of cheaters seem to circulate less frequently, but the perception of cheating—as hazardous as anything to a competitive game's health—seemed to dissipate. We published stories of high-profile bans, along with news of thousands of cheaters getting banned in single waves. How was Valve purging most of these jerks?

"Cheaters didn't get the memo we were doing it, and players were super happy and we were just busting cheaters left and right. It felt so good."

John McDonald, Valve

In one of the only in-depth moments of transparency on this topic, Valve programmer John McDonald spoke at the Game Developers Conference last week in San Francisco about how he and Valve used deep learning techniques to address CS:GO's cheating problem. This approach has been so effective that Valve is now using deep learning on "a bunch of problems," from anti-fraud to aspects of Dota 2, and Valve is actively looking for other studios to work with on implementing their deep learning anti-cheat solution in other games on Steam.

Solving CS:GO's cheating problem

While between projects sometime in 2016, McDonald noticed that "The only thing the community was talking about was cheating," based on online discussion and a private email address that received mail from CS:GO pros. "It was this, just, deafening conversation," he says. The uptick in VAC bans around this period, McDonald says, supported what Valve was hearing.

To combat the issue, Valve and McDonald looked to deep learning, a solution that had the potential to operate and adapt over time to new cheating techniques—attractive traits to Valve, which has historically elected to automate aspects of Steam rather than hire hundreds of new employees to tackle issues like curation. What Valve created is known as VACnet, a project that represents about a year of work. 

VACnet works alongside Overwatch, CS:GO's player-operated replay tool for evaluating players who have been reported for bad behavior. VACnet isn't a new form of VAC, the client and server-side tech that Valve's used for years to identify, say, when someone's running a malicious program alongside a game. VACnet is a new, additional system that uses deep learning to analyze players' in-game behavior, learn what cheats look like, and then spot and ban hackers based on a dynamic criteria.

"Our customers are seeing fewer cheaters today than they have been, and the conversation around cheating has died down tremendously."

John McDonald, Valve

McDonald says that "subtle" cheats remain difficult to solve, but in building VACnet, Valve decided to target aimbots first because they present themselves at specific, easily-definable points during rounds of CS:GO: when you're shooting. This allowed Valve to build a system that captured the changes in pitch (Y-axis) and yaw (X-axis)—degree measurements in a player's perspective—a half a second before a shot, and a quarter second after. This data, along with other pieces of information like what weapon the player is using, their distance, the result of the shot (hit, miss, headshot?) are the individual 'data particles' that together form what Valve calls "atoms," essentially a data package that describes each shot. 

VACnet can't necessarily spot a cheater based on one atom, though. "We need a sequence of them, what we actually want is 140 of them, or at least that's what the model uses right now … We just take the 140 out of an eight round window and we stuff those into the model, and we're like, 'Hey, if you were to present this sequence of 140 shots to a [human] juror, what is the likelihood you would get a conviction?'"

Pretty good, as it turns out. Both players and VACnet report players for judgment in Overwatch. But when VACnet reports a suspected cheater, they're almost always a cheater.

"When a human submits a case to Overwatch, the likelihood that they get a conviction is only 15-30 percent, and that varies on a bunch of factors, like the time of the year, is the game on sale, is it spring break. There's a bunch of things but the point is human convictions are very low," says McDonald. "VACnet convictions are very high, when VACnet submits a case it convicts 80 to 95 percent of the time." 

A slide from McDonald's talk: a model of the relationship between Overwatch and VACnet.

That doesn't mean Valve plans to phase out its cheater theater, Overwatch. Both systems work together: VACnet learns detection techniques from Overwatch, McDonald says. "Because we're using Overwatch and we didn't actually replace all player reports, we just supplemented them, that means that the learner [VACnet] is getting the opportunity to evolve along with human jurors. So as human jurors identify new cheating behaviour, the learner has the opportunity to do the same thing."

McDonald adds that when VACnet has been recently retrained with player data to spot a new cheat, the conviction rate might be nearly 100 percent for a short period before cheaters adapt to it. When Valve quietly rolled out VACnet to CS:GO's 2v2 competitive mode earlier this month, McDonald says "the conviction rate for that mode was 99 percent for a while, it was great. Cheaters didn't get the memo we were doing it, and players were super happy and we were just busting cheaters left and right. It felt so good."

Large Hacker Collider

To bring VACnet to life, a server farm had to be built that could handle CS:GO's millions of players, loads of data, and grow as CS:GO grew. Right now there are about 600,000 5v5 CS:GO matches per day, and to evaluate all players in those matches Valve needed about four minutes of computation, amounting to 2.4 million minutes of CPU effort per day. You need about 1,700 CPUs to do that daily work.

So Valve bought 1,700 CPUs. And 1,700 more, "so we'll have room to expand," McDonald says, hinting at Valve's intention to bring VACnet to other games. Conservatively, Valve had to have spent at least a few million dollars on that hardware: 64 server blades with 54 CPU cores each and 128GB of RAM per blade. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $120M CS:GO brought in off of game copy sales alone in 2017, but it probably represents one of the beefiest anti-cheating farms built for a single game. 

The work continues, but from McDonald's perspective, VACnet is kicking ass, and has potential application not only in non-Valve games, but in other stuff on Steam. "Deep learning is this sea-change technology for evolutionary behaviour," says McDonald. "We think that it is really helping us get developers off of the treadmill without impacting our customers in any way. Our customers are seeing fewer cheaters today than they have been, and the conversation around cheating has died down tremendously compared to where it was before we started this work."

Early December 2017 brought a new milestone for the system: VACnet started producing more convictions than non-convictions in Overwatch. "The system works great," says McDonald.

Counter-Strike

Update:  Following his arrest for sexual exploitation of a child, detailed in our original story below, Counter-Strike co-creator Jess Cliffe has been formally charged with the crime of commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

As reported by Ars Technica, Seattle's King County Prosecutor's Office issued the charge on Monday and released this statement of probable cause. Within, Cliffe is alleged to have engaged in multiple instances of sexual contact with a minor, who he is said to have met through a website and paid for sex. Cliffe is also alleged to have recorded one of these instances against the unidentified "juvenile" (aged 16-years-old at the time of the alleged incidents) alleged victim's will. 

Police are said to have served warrants to AT&T, Verizon, and SeekingArrangement.com who revealed messages sent between the alleged victim and the accused. As detailed in the above-linked statement, police attended Cliffe's home on January 31 to inform him he was "named in an assault investigation". 

Cliffe thereafter met with investigators, and confirmed his use of multiple dating websites, some of which led to paid "arrangements". He denied recognising photos of the alleged victim. He was then shown message logs, and said he "was unable to recall or connect the communications or any other recollections to photographs" of the alleged victim. Cliffe later corroborated details of one of the paid dates, and provided a physical description of the alleged victim as "Caucasian" and "appearing to be 23-years-old". 

At the time of writing, Valve has not responded to our request for comment.

Original story: 

Counter-Strike co-creator Jess Cliffe has been arrested in Seattle for sexual exploitation of a child, reports suggest. Valve Corporation, his employer, has suspended his employment until further notice.

As reported by Kiro 7—a local Seattle news outlet—Cliffe was taken into custody in the early hours of Thursday morning, and was not charged with a crime. Kiro 7 suggests Cliffe will attend a bail hearing on Friday afternoon, though Kotaku reports that he was denied bail. 

Police did not say if an actual child was harmed, writes Kiro 7, while Valve told Kotaku Cliffe has been suspended while it awaits more information.  

A Valve spokesperson told Kotaku: "We are still learning details of what actually happened. Reports suggest he has been arrested for a felony offense. As such we have suspended his employment until we know more." 

Cliffe co-created Counter-Strike as a Half-Life mod alongside Minh "Gooseman" Le in 1999. Valve thereafter bought the rights to the FPS, which has since become one of the most popular multiplayer shooters of all time.

Counter-Strike

Photo by Jo o Ferreira, click for source.

For as long as CS:GO has existed as an esport, North American teams have played the role of the underdogs, perpetually overshadowed by European—and recently, Brazilian—squads who always end up taking home the hardware at the big tournaments. Since the advent of the Valve-supported Major tournaments in 2013, no North American team has ever won one; today, at the penultimate day of ELEAGUE Boston Major 2018, the Americans of Cloud9 have brought themselves tantalizingly close to ending that drought.

After a rocky start in the group stages, Cloud9 fought their way back into contention with a convincing 2-0 win over the French squad of G2 Esports. The vagaries of the tournament bracket meant that this victory set them on a collision course with CS:GO’s current team to beat, the top-ranked Brazilians of SK Gaming. Riding a wave of momentum, and with the hometown crowd cheering their countrymen on, Cloud9 nonetheless entered their semi-final match as the heavy underdog.

As soon as the first map got underway, it was clear that it was time to throw rational predictions out the window. A series of incredibly well-executed rounds and some huge individual plays led Cloud9 to a crushing 16-3 victory to start things off, shocking the analyst desk and driving the crown into a frenzy. Despite the second map not going quite as well, resulting in a 16-8 victory for SK Gaming, Cloud9’s momentum appeared unbreakable, and they rallied to win 16-9 on the third map to clinch their berth in the tournament’s grand finals.

This outcome marks only the second time a North American team has managed to make it into the finals of a Major, after Team Liquid reached (and subsequently lost) the finals of ESL One Cologne back in 2016. If they pull off a win tomorrow against the formidable opposition of FaZe Clan, they will make CS:GO history, and perhaps begin to turn the reputation of American Counter-Strike around.

They’ll also have faced one of the toughest roads to victory of any Major-winning team in recent memory, due to their lacklustre performance in the group stages putting them in a very tough bracket position. Making their way through G2 Esports, SK Gaming and FaZe Clan, the fourth, first, and second best CS:GO teams in the world respectively, is a feat that will finally put to bed any question about Cloud9’s legitimacy as a top-tier team on the world stage.You can catch the grand finals at 11:00am PST on Sunday morning on ELEAGUE’s Twitch channel.

Counter-Strike

Image by DoctorRed2000 on DeviantArt

For the last few days, Valve has been teasing the release of a revamped version of venerated Counter-Strike map Dust 2, and yesterday they spilled the full beans on the new facelift. Valve's been refreshing old Counter-Strike maps for a while now, in an attempt to keep CS:GO looking as modern as possible, but messing with Dust 2 is a bit more of a risky proposition than modifying less-played maps like Train.

The more beloved a map is, the larger the potential backlash will be. Dust 2 has been a staple of competitive play for over 15 years, and was far and away the most played map in the game until its removal from the active map pool back in February. 

It's not surprising, then, that Valve's rework is so conservative. While all the assets have been replaced with higher-res, higher-poly ones, achieving the goal of bringing the map in line with modern graphical expectations, changes to the way the map plays are modest. 

The biggest change is to the visual clarity, which has been improved across the map. Most of the dark or busy looking areas that allowed players to blend in with their surroundings have been illuminated: the tunnels leading to B are much brighter thanks to a new open ceiling, and a lot of the crates throughout the map have been draped in white cloth to better contrast with player models. Bombsite A benefits from the deletion of the busy-looking doors at the back of A long, and some cleanup of the wall decoration along catwalk. These are bound to be uncontroversial changes, and are in line with what Valve has been doing with the other map facelifts.

There’s also been some common sense cleanup work that probably should’ve happened years ago. Stuff like widening the window from CT spawn into B site, and simplifying the scaffolding near CT-side mid doors, feels like pretty basic quality-of-life improvements that will prevent newer players from getting stuck on weird geometry or having their shots glance off of random pipes.

What impact will these changes have?

In the coming weeks we’ll get a better idea of the full ramifications of this update. A couple things to keep an eye on will be whether the new single car on A long (which replaces a pair of cars that were at odd angles in the map’s previous version) will actually be useful as cover now, and whether the increase in room to maneuver behind B site’s car will increase its viability as a hold point for CTs.

It s a healthy overhaul that makes some modest but interesting changes without reinventing the wheel.

There are also some subtle changes that may not even be intentional, and may or may not have a substantial impact on gameplay. Foremost among these is a problem we’ve seen already on some of the other modernized maps, but doesn’t seem to have caused enough of a ruckus to attract Valve’s notice: almost every previously-flat surface is now slightly bumpy (presumably for visual fidelity reasons), which affects the way grenades bounce off of floors and walls. Given how big of a deal smoke and flash placement is in CS, this may prove to be problematic in the long term, as it’s going to reduce the accuracy with which banked grenades can be placed.

Also on the topic of small, maybe-unintentional changes, the spawn locations have shifted slightly. A helpful redditor has pointed out after exploring the map that counter-terrorists can now get to their side of A long a full two seconds before terrorists can get to theirs, which may impact which corners CT players choose to hold, and which angles T players choose to peek from. Again, these are the kind of changes that will require some time to shake out, and we won’t know the full effect of this stuff until the competitive meta has fully adapted, which may take even longer than usual given there's a decade-plus of habits to unlearn.

But Valve seems to have struck a good balance with this update. It’s a healthy overhaul that makes some modest but interesting changes without reinventing the wheel. From a purely visual perspective, the new Dust 2 is beautiful, and undeniably an upgrade from the previous iteration. The terrorists have also gotten new higher-fidelity player models as part of the deal, and they’re a big improvement over the dated look of the existing models. (Puzzlingly, the CT models have not gotten the same treatment thus far.)

There are of course a host of bugs related to the new geometry, allowing for all manner of unintentional boost spots and weird clipping, but this has always been the case with these big map refreshes, and generally they get fixed in a fairly timely manner. Once these issues are addressed, we should expect to see Dust 2 re-added to the Active Duty map pool (possibly at the expense of Cobblestone) and the tournament circuit will quickly demonstrate what effect, if any, the update will have on the way Counter-Strike’s most iconic map is played.

PC Gamer

A reload is a seconds-long sideshow of watching ammo numbers go back up, a firearm equivalent of wiping the blood off a blade. Whether it’s the snappy accuracy of a mil-sim mag swap or feeding vomit balls to a living rocket launcher, reload animations are testament to the artistic prowess of personalizing a ubiquitous aspect of shooters. In alphabetical order, here’s some of the best reload animations on PC.

Battlefield 1 - Gewehr 98

Battlefield’s reloads mix function with form to spruce up each kit’s arsenal without straying too far into prolonged five-finger theatrics. The bolt-action rifles have satisfyingly crisp rechambering sequences, and it’s wonderful picking out DICE’s split-second touches on the older weapon design. The left hand of this Gewehr 98 sniper clamping over the rifle’s port to prevent an unspent bullet from flying out as he cycles the bolt to reload is a fine example. 

Battlefield 1 - Kolibri 

Behold the pee-wee Kolibri, the tiniest sidearm in a game filled with bulky, ancient MGs and hulking tanks. This novelty pistol has perhaps daintiest reload animation in gaming history. Swapping a magazine smaller than some caterpillars (the slight wiggle before the magazine enters its housing is a hilarious nudge) perfectly accompanies the sophistication of the pinky, ring, and middle fingers raised at maximum teacup clearance. 

Battlefield 4 - AK-12

Diverging from typical FPS fare of tilting the gun sideways for a clearer view of a reload, Battlefield 4’s AK-12 instead scores points for sticking with the realism of a trained military soldier dispensing with unnecessary movements. Note the forward-facing angle during the entire animation—this keeps the barrel’s business end pointed at the enemy—and the support hand curving beneath the grip to rack the charging handle and keep the firing hand near the trigger.

(gif via Jarek the Gaming Dragon)

Battlefield 4 - AN-94

 The AN-94 provides another AK-style reload with a much flashier “mag-pop” sequence that both seems terribly wasteful and oddly celebratory at the same time, almost as if it’s the gun version of sabering champagne.

(gif via Static Gaming)

Battlefield 4 - Unica 6

Catching one of DICE’s handful of easter-egg reload animations guarantees a double-take and that special feeling of accomplishment for triggering the fabled 1-in-10,000 probability. The Unica 6 secret reload is one of the earliest recorded from Battlefield’s community, and it holds a special place of honor for its ridiculous speedloader flick and follow-up cartridge comfort pat.

 (gif via Shimytangtang)

Battlefield Hardline - .410 Jury

Battlefield Hardline boasts plenty of hidden reload animations seemingly trying to upstage each other with increasing ridiculousness. Levitating an AK magazine with powerful criminal magic is impressive enough, but it’s hard to top the mesmerizing smoothness of the twirling .410 Jury and its gunslinger savant performing some extremity ballet.

(gif via Gibs O Matic)

BioShock - Grenade Launcher

Everyone’s favorite objectivist dystopia beneath the sea is a playground of art-deco architecture and hybrid steampunk weaponry—and then there’s the Grenade Launcher which looks like something the Home Alone kid slapped together in his garage. Its rough reload gives weight to its explosive power; you practically break the thing in half to shove in another coffee can’s worth of grenades into its metal gullet.

Borderlands 2 - Tediore

Borderlands 2's zillion guns follow a small pattern of reload animations based on each manufacturer. For Tediore, it involves chucking the entire gun like a slab of beef (with obligatory explosion) before generating a new one right in your hands. And yes, there’s entire character builds centered on throwing out as many Tediores as possible.

Call of Duty: Black Ops - G11

The few prototype guns found in Black Ops’ Cold War-era arsenal are a refreshing change from the cookie-cutter animations pasted across nearly every Call of Duty, and the G11 assault rifle nails that conceptual feeling best with its caseless rod reload and cocking handle crank that wouldn’t look out of place on a windup toy.

(gif via Undeath92)

Crysis 2

No single weapon in Crysis 2 sports an interesting reload, but each Nanosuit mode changes how Prophet rearms himself with suitably subtle animation changes. If you’re in power mode, you’ll slam in magazines with gusto and cock the handle with a firm grip. In stealth mode, you’ll more gingerly swap magazines and slowly bring back the handle so it makes less noise. Maximum context.

Counter-Strike 1.6 - M4

Surprising detail and nuance, for the time. The classic one-two of the open-palm mag-tap and fantastically inaccurate forward assist yank was a common occurrence when spectating a CT victory during those binge nights when homework was finished early.

Doom 2 - Super Shotgun

The only new weapon in Doom 2 was a powerhouse of a double-barrel shotgun with a big boom and a framey click-clack reload that’s music to a shooter grognard’s ears. You could've switched back to the original pump-action and saved some ammo, but you didn't.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon - Galleria 1991

Picking out a single example from Blood Dragon’s neon hallucination was almost as impossible as questioning Rex Colt’s sense of subtlety, but the Galleria 1991’s extra flair of casually tossing in shells is too excellent a combo to pass up.

Far Cry 4 - M-700

Carried from Far Cry 3 into the mountains of Kyrat, the M-700 is a plain but reliable sniper rifle favored for stealth-inclined players. Its reload is far more interesting with its abundant use of left-side screen space as the gun traverses across your monitor and back.

(gif via Jarek the Gaming Dragon)

Half-Life: Opposing Force - Spore Launcher

Shepherd’s logical action of picking up a baby of those creatures from another dimension trying to kill him gives us this Half-Life memento of an impromptu feeding session followed by—what else?—deadly vomit.

Killing Floor 2 - Dual 1858 Revolvers

The gun nuts at Tripwire earned their reputation as reload wizards from Red Orchestra’s authenticity, and Killing Floor 2’s high-fps, motion-captured animations are visual treats. The Gunslinger’s dual reloads pack so much refinement, the above GIF had to be slowed down to more easily observe the entire reload from start to finish. Nearly every other reload style is a blast to watch, a popular favorite being the smooth magazine retention for rifles and SMGs.

Max Payne 2

With enough kills chained during Bullet Time, Max whirls into a camera-orbiting move that’s less of a traditional reload and more of a sudden urge to pirouette his pain away. Still, it’s a stylish ode to Payne’s cinematographic influences, especially if you keep “Ave Maria” playing in your head the entire time.

Max Payne 3

Rockstar gleefully embellished Max’s gun-fu in his third killing spree, with the best animated touches emphasizing Max’s familiarity at juggling a small armory of guns. Reloading a one-handed gun while holding a two-handed weapon in the offhand is one of the best displays from the world-weary monologuer, as he tucks the bigger gun beneath his arm to free up his hand to change magazines.

Metro: Last Light - Shambler

The ramshackle design of Metro’s arsenal is already a pleasure to behold, but the Shambler shotgun’s revolver-style reload is one of the most unique of the series. The small toss between Artyom’s left and right hands as he feeds a shell into each clamp is a dash of detail and personality. 

(gif via Arbybear)

Overwatch - Torbjörn's Rivet Gun

Blizzard’s penchant for polish is on display in Overwatch’s reloads. Most of the cast would be right at home in this gallery, such as Torbjorn’s screen-spanning scrap refill, the only time I can think of molten liquid being poured into a gun.

PlanetSide 2 - Commissioner

The powerful Commissioner revolver is a trusty companion in PlanetSide 2’s massive warzones, and its split cylinder reload and automated spin bring that subsequent thrill of badassery after some bullseye frags.

Postal 2 - Beta Shotgun

The well-known video of Postal Dude elegantly shoving a fistful of shells into his awaiting shotgun embodies creative reload animations dispensing with silly real-world rules such as gravity and jams. The animation’s absurdity is even better experienced firsthand in the thick of Postal 2’s chaos, so definitely grab either the Paradise Lost DLC or the Eternal Damnation mod to see it for yourself.

Resident Evil 4 - Broken Butterfly

Console players have long recognized Leon Kennedy’s reloads in Resident Evil 4 as those of an expert zombie slayer, and the 2007 PC port brought his expertise into sharper detail. The Broken Butterfly revolver is a top pick; Leon’s nonchalant no-eyes-needed head tilt as he dumps out the cartridges and the almost lazy-looking single-bullet toss into the cylinder are just pure awesome. 

(gif via Hi-Res Reset)

Rise of the Triad - Dual Pistols

The challenge of animating an elaborate akimbo reload is smartly executed in Rise of the Triad, a fantastic world where air resistance is a myth and wrist strength reaches mutant levels.

Shadow Warrior 2 - Springchester

A lever-action flip might be passé by now, but Shadow Warrior 2’s Springchester exaggerates the pull-flip sequence so strongly that it's a wonder Wang isn't ducking for cover on the backswing. 

(gif via PC Gaming Videos)

Squad - M4

With all the arsenal acrobatics, it's nice to sometimes plug some realism back into restoring ammo to a weapon. This M4 reload from Squad reinforces the no-frills approach and the professionalism of the soldiers you play as therein, particularly with the confident-looking hand movements and double-check of the ejection port for a clean mag transition.

Titanfall 2 - 40mm Cannon

The Titans of Titanfall 2 are massive robots shooting equally massive guns, but their reloads pleasingly mirror human hand movements at a bigger scale. I love the small gears spinning open the ammo box housing and the slight jiggle of the barrel cover responding to the charge handle slamming forward.

PC Gamer

Some of the best games I've ever played aren't games at all. That is to say: some of my fondest gaming memories have come courtesy of total conversion mods—modifications which take some of the best and most well-known classics and radically transform them into new and exciting things. I imagine most of you will have played at least one total conversion at some point in your gaming careers, but Chris' list of the best total conversion mods ever gathers a large number of my own favourites and may point some of you towards mods you haven't yet played. 

The benefits of total conversion mods are probably pretty obvious. First and foremost, they extend the time spent wandering our favourite game worlds; and quite often offer players the chance to visit new realms and arenas tied to the games in question. These scenarios tend to be dreamt up by hobbyist modders—people who, like you, are fans of the relevant series. The best total conversions therefore portray likely circumstances and credible characters which complement their source material. 

What I love most about total conversion mods is tied to that last part. As hobbyists, the folk behind these projects create them for free—at times designing worlds similar in scope and size to big budget games, fitting development time around full-time employment among other real life distractions. Many have went on to earn cash from their endeavours eventually, but the vast majority of developers start out driven by passion alone. Over the years I've chatted to a few of the devs responsible for some of my favourite total conversions and it's their stories which have been among the most interesting I've ever heard. 

Minh Le is a name some of you will know well. Le, who otherwise goes by the pseudonym Gooseman, is a freelance programmer, modeller and designer for Facepunch Studios' open-world survival game Rust—however also co-founded the one-time Half-Life mod Counter-Strike with Jesse Cliffe in 1999. 

As I'm sure most of you are aware, Counter-Strike has gone onto become pretty popular, however it wasn't until last year that I discovered Le and Cliffe spent the first three years of their respective Valve careers without actually meeting in person. When Valve approached the duo about acquiring the mod they'd crafted using the original Half-Life GoldSource engine, Le moved from Canada to Valve's Seattle HQ while Cliffe spent the next few years finishing school. It was only after this time that Le and Cliffe were ever in the same room together. 

Valve's GoldSource engine and its Half-Life 2 Source engine have been responsible for a number of other total conversion success stories. Garry's Mod celebrates ten years on Steam this year and has seen its community grow exponentially—not to mention its multitude of user-made game modes—in that time. Unlike Counter-Strike's more focused beginnings, Garry Newman designed the sandbox game which would eventually allow him to take up game development full-time as a result of messing around with the Source engine and a desire to see how far he could push it. 

Newman learned coding on the job and in a chat earlier this year told me that without Source Control pre-release, GMod game crashes meant he was forced to bin all previous work and start the entire game from scratch every time he encountered bug-related problems. Further crashes meant repeating this process and then hoping for the best in the next run.

Other total conversion stories of intrigue include Sven Co-op, another Half-Life mod which, although created in 1999, was continually developed and iterated on before finding its way onto Steam for free earlier this year. The prolific and super efficient work of Elder Scrolls enthusiasts and hobbyist modders SureAI has seen the likes of Nehrim and Enderal come to be—both hugely impressive Oblivion and Skyrim mods which are arguably as good, or at least equally as ambitious, as their source material. 

XCOM: Enemy Unknown's ultra-challenging Long War total conversion mod is another of my own personal favourites about which creator John Lumpkin told me back in July: “Last September, I went to the Firaxis offices when they were in the fairly late stages of polishing XCOM 2. I met Jake Solomon there and showed him what XCOM: Enemy Unknown modding looked like. He wondered aloud if I had closets full of chains and leather.”    

He doesn't, it turns out, but Lumpkin's story—not to mention those touched upon above—is but one of thousands of interesting anecdotes behind some of the most outstanding mods-cum-games I've ever played. Furthermore, the dedicated communities these mods have inspired make the mods themselves even more inspiring in my book. Again, Chris' 'best of' list is well worth checking out, and I'd love for you to share your own favourite total conversion stories in the comments below. 

PC Gamer

Counter-Strike: Classic Offensive is a remake of Counter-Strike being made inside a remake of Counter-Strike.

Yesterday the modder Z00L released a launch trailer for his curious mod, a project that aims to reproduce the look and feel of the original Counter-Strike (version '1.6' as it's more colloquially known) inside CS:GO. "The main goal of the mod is to get the gameplay from 1.6 right into CS:GO including weapons, sounds, movement, all the old stuff you've dreamed to see in CS:GO," he writes on ModDB. "As you can see, I'm pretty near."

The mod is built within CS:GO's version of Source, and it'll require CS:GO to play. At launch, planned December 25, Z00L says that retro versions of Dust2, Italy, Mirage and Inferno will be playable. Each of these maps exist in the current version of CS:GO, of course, but they've since been aesthetically and structurally reimagined in small or significant ways. 

As stated in August, Z00L's goals with the project are to make weapons that behave similarly to 1.6, remove 'GO'-specific guns, replace all sounds, and remove skins. He also outlines what he is not able to do as a result of the engine:

  • Wallbangs as in 1.6 (even if I change it it won't penetrate more than 32units)
  • Remake the crouching jumping bug (no I won't edit the dlls)
  • Playermodel selection (a plugin could fix that though)
  • See inside smoke particles (the game don't draw the world when inside, so nope..)
  • Bring back the tactical shield
  • Change flashes, smoke time, nade physics
  • Add buying ammo

So although the project is appetizing to folks like me who grew up playing 1.6 in internet cafes, it does seem to be operating under some fundamental constraints that might make it impossible to include certain movement quirks and 'desirable' map bugs what were buffed out over Counter-Strike's different iterations. It's hard to tell from the in-game trailer exactly how well Classic Offensive captures the movement and weapon feel of old CS, but to my eyes it resembles the higher-fi Counter-Strike: Source more than anything. I guess that isn't unsurprising, considering it's the link between 1.6 and GO.

Which version of Counter-Strike was the best, the most pure, or the most tactically interesting remains a hotly debated topic by FPS players. For the year following its release in 2012, CS:GO wasn’t even the most popular version of Counter-Strike—some players were still actively arguing the merits of GO against its thirteen- and nine-year-old predecessors.

PC Gamer

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's esteemed Inferno map has been given a fresh lick of paint and a host structural renovations bringing its 2012 design in-line with the world of today.

In doing so, three main areas have been the focus of improvement: to advance visibility across the map; to make it easier to move around in groups; and to "fine-tune the gameplay based on community feedback."

Fresh from a stint in its beta phase, the new slant on Inferno is now available to all in the Reserves Map Group, and Valve is keen for Counter-Strikers to test it out and file feedback. Full details on what's been changed and why can be found here, but you can check out how each area has been reworked via the sliders below.

Bombsite A

"We focused on increasing the readability of positions, and giving the attackers more ways to utilize their equipment such as smoke grenades and flashbangs before entering the site itself.

"The overhanging roof on the site was removed, letting more natural light flow in. This also makes sniping between library and balcony more viable for both sides, and allows you to land smoke grenades on the site itself.

"The infamous truck that served as the path onto balcony has been replaced with a simpler cart, which has a more solid shape making gameplay more manageable, and makes navigating onto the balcony easier.

"The upper platform features improved visibility, with less parallaxing geometry for attackers to sift through to be able to spot a defender."

"In addition to these changes, the path leading to balcony has now been opened up, to allow attackers to flashbang into site before exposing themselves. This forces a defender playing from pit to stay alert.

"Another change inside of apartments is the removal of the 'dark' bedroom. This room was a very powerful defensive position for CTs, and Ts would be forced to use some of their grenades in clearing it before even reaching the site.

"This has been changed to a cubby (similar to the 1.6 version of Inferno), which is easier to check, but remains a powerful position for a defender."

Bombsite B

"The final stretch leading into the bombsite has been widened, along with giving Terrorists some additional cover before committing to the site itself.

"The skybox in this area has been tweaked as well, it no longer allows CTs to smoke off B site from other areas of the map.

"On the site itself, there have been some changes. The gap between 'newbox' and the pillar has been closed off, the position near the entrance to the site is now climbable and visibility in general has been improved."

Middle

"The biggest change in the middle of the map is that the underpass connecting middle and alt-mid is now halfway walkable. You still need to crouch to be able to enter from middle, but about halfway through the tunnel you are able to walk upright.

"Another minor, but impactful change; the lightpole that has absorbed millions of bullets over the years has been removed, so there is one less object to blame if you miss your shot."

T Spawn

"The T Spawn now finally has its second exit opened up, which puts you directly into alt-mid."

Valve signs off the update with the following: "While there have been upgrades and adjustments throughout the map, the core gameplay remains more or less the same. By releasing the new Inferno early as a beta we were able to collect valuable player feedback and made many fixes ahead of this official release.

"Thank you to those who contributed. We will continue to observe the gameplay and make tweaks and fine-tune the map as we collect more feedback."

PC Gamer

Chloe Desmoineaux isn t your usual Counter-Strike player. I ll cut to the chase: because she uses lipstick to play the game. As in make-up.

She calls it Lipstrike, and it uses a clever mix of basic electronics, key remapping and gun-based violence. I like it a lot.

Using a kit from Makey Makey, Desmoineaux hooked up the control board and some alligator clips to her lipstick. The mouse is used, of course: left click to move forward, right for aim-down-sights, scroll wheel to switch weapons.

But when she applies the lipstick, the connection in the Makey Makey circuit board is completed, which is linked via USB to input as a button being pressed... and the bullets start flying.

Desmoineaux explained her thinking in an email to Motherboard, pointing out it s not exactly a serious thing it s just interesting and funny:

Counter-Strike is one of those games that's mainly attributed to a male audience. Lipstick for girls, war games for boys. Fuck that! I can mix it up... If it visually works and the resulting effect is comical, maybe it s because we all use shortcuts and stereotypes embedded in our heads. It's in this spirit that I got the idea for Lipstrike.

You can catch up on Desmoineaux s performances over on her Twitch channel, and she ll be broadcasting new sessions over there until June.

PC Gamer
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